Photographer, psychologist the subject of documentary

John Hilliard

For John Budz, a practicing psychologist, a longtime photographer and a retired Framingham State College professor, working with his patients and shooting portraits are tied together.

"You grow a rapport - the photographer and the subject," said Budz, comparing it to a psychologist's work with a patient. "When I understand a patient, I can take (a picture) very exactly," he said.

Now, Budz is the subject of a film student's documentary - and has another chance to reach a new audience.

"He has a way of putting things that grabs you," said director Alex O'Flinn. A film student at the University of California at Los Angeles, O'Flinn, 26, is creating a documentary about the longtime educator.

"You need to believe your characters" in filmmaking, said O'Flinn, a Maryland native whose family has known Budz for years. "I think Dr. Budz is a character."

Before his recent retirement, Budz taught at FSC for nearly 30 years as a psychology professor. His wife, Judy Budz, is an English professor at Fitchburg State College. He said he loved working in the classroom and misses it now.

He remains a professor emeritus at Framingham State, plus continues his private psychology practice.

Budz lives with what he describes as a "moving disorder," which causes him to shift positions often - he uses a tripod to aid in photography. But the focus of the documentary is on his achievements as a psychologist, photographer and educator, said O'Flinn.

"The story would be fantastic, no matter what," said O'Flinn.

Showing photographic work publicly - including a print now displayed at the White House - has taken Budz's life in a new direction.

"I never did that before," he said of showing his work. "It's a big deal for me."

He had photographed for years and amassed thousands of images, but never showed them until a few years ago because he said he believed no one would be interested. But he was encouraged a few years ago to put some on display, and his photographic career "launched like a rocket ship," he said.

At an early show of his work, a colleague told him his work was better than some artists, he said.

"It is very exciting for me - I never thought it would happen," he said.

Budz's Southborough home is flanked by a free-standing photography studio, where prints of his portrait work line the walls.

He works with portraiture - he is drawn to human emotion on a subject's face, he said - and often works in series. Popular themes are the human figure framed by a window and shots from real life.

His work is displayed in the White House - he presented a tight shot of an American flag to Andrew Card, former chief of staff to President George W. Bush, in 2005. He also has permanent displays at FSC's library, athletic center and one of its administrative buildings.

Budz himself cannot say what the documentary is ultimately about - he defers to O'Flinn, who calls it a work in progress. The film will take about a year to complete, but afterward, O'Flinn said he plans to enter it into several film festivals.

O'Flinn said he wants to make films after he graduates in 2009, but teaching holds an appeal, too. "They're not mutually exclusive" pursuits, O'Flinn said.

For his part, Budz said the film is a chance to "find out the truth about the two roles" of his life - psychology and photography.

He said he will follow his role in photography "wherever it will take me. I'm flexible, man."

John Hilliard of The MetroWest (Mass.) Daily News can be reached at 508-626-4449 or